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BYU: Recent grad shares thoughts on what ‘beating cancer’ really means

September 9, 2018
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Grips Daniel Taylor, Diana Jones and Amy Burton push a dolly track that the crane sits on while Howie Burbidge directs his key grip Christena Taylor for a shot that the crane pushes over the Provo River at Rock Cliff Campground on March 23, 2018.

Attending class, completing assignments, raising a child and enduring extensive pain were routine experiences for Howie Burbidge when he found out he had stage four cancer.

Now healthy and in remission, Burbidge recently graduated from Brigham Young University, where he studied film and directing.

During the fall semester of 2016, Burbidge started feeling major pain in his body.

“It was on Thanksgiving that I woke up in the middle of the night and my back hurt so bad, I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “During the next few weeks, I experienced tremendous back pain every night. As I was experiencing this weird pain, I was also taking a really hard class and having to shoot my final film for the course. I started seeing doctors and none of them could tell me what was going on. After several weeks, I was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma in January 2017.”

As a 25-year-old college student and father, Burbidge received chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma from January through July of that year.

“I would go into chemotherapy and sit next to others getting their chemo,” Burbidge said. “I know that some of those people aren’t alive today. When I found out I was in remission, people would say ‘Hey, congratulations you beat cancer. You did it. Good job.’ and I would think about the people that didn’t live and think, ‘Well, they still beat it. They beat it too.’ Just because they didn’t live and just because I lived doesn’t mean I beat it. Living doesn’t mean you beat cancer and dying doesn’t mean you don’t. I was thinking about that and wanted to write a story about someone who had a difficulty and didn’t live but still communicate that they beat it and that dying isn’t losing.”

From those thoughts, Burbidge created the storyline for his senior capstone film project titled “Gather.” In this film, a widower frontiersman and his 10-year-old daughter are trying to gather enough provisions and food before the ensuing winter. Ultimately, they die, but that is not the end of their story, or the film.

Burbidge finished the script for “Gather” during the month of September.

“I had just finished chemo,” Burbidge said. “I had done so many rounds. My chemotherapy was so powerful because I was at stage four. At the end of it in July, I felt dead — I just felt dead. I find inspiration for my films through my personal experiences. This man and his daughter, they don’t live, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t beat their trials. They’re able to have this completeness in the afterlife that they didn’t have on earth. That’s how I got the inspiration for this.”

“Gather” will have a world premiere in September 2018 and tour festivals until its public release in fall 2019. To view Burbidge’s current and future work, visit his Instagram, Youtube channel and website.

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